Zen Simpsons

Blood on Your Hands

6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
1 John 1:6-7

22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
Hebrews 9:22

One of my very favorite episodes of The Simpsons is the one where Lisa is trying to teach Bart how to be a better miniature golfer. She starts with using a zen technique called a “koan” to help him to empty his mind of distraction:

Lisa: I want you to shut off the logical part of your mind.
Bart: Okay.
Lisa: Embrace nothingness.
Bart: You got it.
Lisa: Become like an uncarved stone.
Bart: Done.
Lisa: Bart, you’re just pretending to know what I’m talking about!
Bart: True.
Lisa: Well, it’s very frustrating!
Bart: I’ll bet.

Lisa and Bart sit atop a mountain.

Lisa: What is the sound of one hand clapping?
Bart: Piece of cake. [claps with one hand]
Lisa: No, Bart, it’s a 3000-year-old riddle with no answer.
It’s supposed to clear your mind of conscious thought.
Bart: No answer? Lisa, listen up! [claps with one hand]

Lisa tries again.

Lisa: If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around, does it make a sound?
Bart: Absolutely! [makes the sound of a tree falling]
Lisa: But Bart, how can sound exist if there’s no one there to hear it.
Bart: Wooooooo…
Lisa: [hands Bart his putter] It is time.

Zen Bart

You’re just pretending to know what I’m talking about!

I have been thinking about the idea of being washed in Jesus’ blood. I find that I have to be careful not to be a grownup version of Bart – “embrace nothingness. Done.” I think a huge part of the problem with modern Christian practice and teaching is that we embrace Christian doctrines and ideas in the same way. “Be washed in the blood of the Lamb.” “Done!” “Believe that Christ died for your sins!” “”You got it!” We “believe” without understanding or question, and it doesn’t affect us because we are only pretending to know what we are being told. Then we are told that “mere belief” is not enough, we must be sanctified. Yes, blind belief in a vaporous nothing has no power to sanctify you — this is truly spoken. If the thing assented to is not really substantive it can’t have a transforming effect. The problem is not that there is too much emphasis on “mental assent”, but that there isn’t enough mental assent going on.

Washing with blood

The idea of being washed in blood is extremely difficult. Even in the most graphically violent action movies, we see scenes of people emphatically and urgently washing blood off of their hands. If someone said to you, “Wash up!” and handed you a bowl of blood and a wash cloth, wouldn’t you pretty much run out of there screaming? If there was a movie scene where someone was actually washing up with blood, I think we would say that the filmmakers had really gone too far. It is a metaphor of horror. Yet this is a central and somehow beautiful tenet of the Christian faith. How could this be? Why would any intelligent sane person believe such things?

This is where the answer lies

I’m not going to answer the question. I’ve blogged at great length about these things, but here I simply want to raise the question. I want only to suggest that you let the power of the idea grip you. Approach this with a beginner’s mind. This is truly where you work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). This is where you give much greater attention to so great a salvation (Hebrews 2:1,3). This is where the seed planted in you either bears fruit, or is crowded out by other concerns (Mark 4:3-9). This is where you seek until you find (Matthew 7:7). This is where you, personally, grapple with the determination to know nothing except Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). Are you Bart saying “got it!” just to make people think you get it (Matthew 6:1), or have you seen this as your great treasure, which you would gladly sell everything else to obtain (Matthew 13:44). Many people give lip service to the blood of Jesus as a necessary checkmark on their doctrinal statement, but one way or another they put their deeds and their works and their worthiness front and center. In his great book “Spiritual Depression”, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones includes an entire chapter on how a subtle lack of belief in the gospel lies at the root of much of the spiritual depression that is rampant in the church. Are you secretly depressed and resentful about your faith? What, exactly, do you really believe about Jesus Christ? Have you put this together?

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17

I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the justice of God,” because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.

Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate of heaven.

If you have a true faith that Christ is your Savior, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God’s heart and will, that you should see pure grace and overflowing love. This it is to behold God in faith that you should look upon his fatherly, friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness. He who sees God as angry does not see him rightly but looks only on a curtain as if a dark cloud had been drawn across his face.

Martin Luther

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